What a wild ride!On Friday, June 6, 2014, U.S. District Court judge Barbara Crabb issued a ruling in a case brought by the ACLU, declaring the State of Wisconsin’s same sex marriage ban to be unconstitutional.
I was at a 5pm wedding rehearsal when I got a text from a colleague, sharing the good news. But then we wondered, what do we do??? The County Clerks for the two population centers (Dane and Milwaukee counties, with courts in the cities of Madison and Milwaukee, respectively) were staying open ‘til 9pm, and planning to open again on Saturday morning to issue marriage licenses, waiving the usual 5 day waiting period.
No way to know when (or if) the ruling would be stayed pending appeal. The judge had declined to immediately stay her own ruling, which the WI Attorney General had requested. But there are never any guarantees. A recent ruling in Michigan had opened a window of only 10 hours for gay and lesbian couples to marry, before a stay was issued.
It was way too late for either of us to make the trek on Friday evening, but we planned to reconsider in the morning. In the morning, we both drove into Milwaukee, not knowing quite what we’d be able to do – but trusting that we’d be able to help, somehow. My dear spouse came along with me, saying he’d act as my support staff. I was grateful for him, carrying tissues and a camera and extra black pens!
While I was there I was privileged to officiate for three couples. Two couples had been together for about a decade, one for about three years. The two lesbian couples had had symbolic ceremonies when they applied for domestic partnership status. The gay male couple hadn’t had any previous ceremony, and interestingly opted for my longer, more traditional service. My good colleague was able to officiate for 8 couples, including two couples from the congregation we serve! (Click the link at the top of this post to see video of the day!)
The joy was palpable, and contagious. I would have stayed longer, but there was the previously scheduled wedding… 80 miles away! As I sped off to that location to officiate for a young, straight couple, I rode an adrenaline high. They asked if I’d done any other weddings, and were happy to know I had!
Sunday church was JOYFUL! My colleague and I, along with another colleague, made plans to go to our local county courthouse Monday morning – just in case our services were needed. Bear in mind that this county is one of the “reddest” in the United States.
At first this morning, things did not look good. While the Clerk’s office opened at 8am, she refused to issue any licenses until getting advice from the County’s Corporate Counsel. At 9am, she told us and the two couples waiting at the time that she would issue licenses, but not waive the 5 day waiting period. About a half hour later, after receiving more legal advice, she began waiving the waiting period.
I was asked to officiate for a young lesbian couple, while my colleague and a news photographer signed as their witnesses! My colleague officiated for two other lesbian couples, one of them from our church! Our other colleague officiated for two men, while my colleague and I served as their witnesses! (One of the men was just amazed that three women, all ministers, were willing – no, thrilled – to help him and his partner get married, giving their relationship a legal status in the eyes of the government. He kept telling us we were a blessing. Finally, I told him we were blessed to be part of their joy.)
Miracle of miracles, the Register of Deeds was processing returned licenses while couples waited. So every couple was able to leave with certified copies of their marriage certificates, rather than waiting for the typical 2-3 day turnaround.
We hung around through the lunch hour, but by then the few couples arriving were coming with their own officiants. We all left around 1pm, feeling like we’d done just a little bit to bring more happiness and joy into a few people’s lives. As I write this, the courthouse is about to close, and stopped taking any applications for licenses a half hour ago.
Some counties in the state are still not issuing licenses to gay and lesbian couples. Other counties are issuing licenses, but not waiving the waiting period. We don’t know how long this window of opportunity will last. But, we have not merely witnessed history. We have participated in it.
Love Wins. Eventually.